"As long as the ladlord offers to make the arrangement via an 'Assured Shorthold tenancy', which must be for six months minumum, then you're offered fairly good legal protection anyway"
Just to add to this: the law was tightened a few years ago such that even if the landlord doesn't give you a written contract, in law it will default to an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, and the Housing Act 1998 (which governs this type of tenancy) will give you a guaranteed security of tenure for six months. So, yes, I agree that going through an agent gives you no extra legal protection, since the Assured Shorthold Tenancy is now the default.
don't use hastings international- we used them and although the actual agent was nice and helpful, the admin staff were completely incompetant and made a couple of mistakes on our contract which nearly resulted in us being taken to court.
SE1 is a fantastic area and, IMHO, the nicest place in London to live - it has a little bit of everything for everyone!
There is a large painting/craft community just south of the Walworth Rd. They have communal open days etc. Also the rents there (& we're only talking 1/2 mile further South) are much lower (& for period properties) & your more likely to get studio/working space with good light too.
If you are looking for live/work you might also try Lambeth Walk SE11. They had units to let for a long time but don't know where things stand now. A really interesting community project. I would walk along and ask one of the current tenants.
Alternatively you could ask Southwark, or Lambeth, planners which developments are live work, and put letters through the doors. Onward renting/selling of these untis can be difficult so you may strike lucky. As a longer shot try Coin Street Community Builders who may also have live-work units, but I suspect they can only take people from Lambeth/Southwark housing lists.
thanks for the advice everyone. If anyone has contact information for the live/work places I'd be grateful. As for the sea breezes, I suppose SE1 stretches over a large area and there are differing microclimates, but from my experience wandering around southwark it certainly seems to have the edge over most places in london - nice gusts of fresh (relatively speaking!) air blowing off the thames.